After a week in which the world of rugby was left reeling by a disturbing proposal to ban tackling from the junior game it was fitting that London Scottish under 16s were at their most belligerent in defence for the vital league fixture at Cheshunt.
All season long this has been the clash earmarked as a promotion decider and both sides duly went into the match unbeaten – with Scottish starting narrowly on top of the Herts and Middx league table by virtue of an extra bonus point.
Against a Cheshunt side packed with hefty forwards and strong physical backs it was essential that Scottish were on their defensive mettle – and once again they did not disappoint.
In a bracing wind on a boggy sloping pitch somewhere off the M25 Scottish took to the field in a somewhat makeshift formation owing to the enforced absence of regular fly half Taino Goveia and second row Connor Fraser.
Despite the unavoidable reshuffle the boys in blue started strongly and within five minutes a sweeping multiphase movement from right to left then back again resulted in stand-in stand-off Gary Hardy creating an opening for winger AJ Crittenden to juggle the ball before touching down in the corner.
A lengthy period of Cheshunt posession followed in which their pack battered away at the Scottish line and were met with heroic resistance led by skipper Joachim Ridley Barker.
Wave after wave of Cheshunt attacks were repulsed with second row George Bothamley and flanker Oscar Thorpe fearless in their commitment to the cause.
Eventually Cheshunt's pressure told and they were able to find an opening in the Scottish right hand corner to deservedly level the scores at 5-5 with 10 minutes of the half remaining.
From the restart Scottish flew back at their hosts with Hardy and Ridley Barker repeatedly driving at the heart of the opposition defence. Surging attacks took them to within a few metres of the Cheshunt line and after drives by Ridley Barker and props Ollie Steafel and Archie Brayley were held up, muscular centre Alex Wilson Benson found a narrow gap to plunge over in the corner. Half time Cheshunt 5 – Scottish 10.
Hardy's steepling 2nd half kickoff proved too much for Cheshunt's forwards and a knock on gave Scottish an appetising scrum opportunity 30 metres out. A powerful drive from the pack created a perfect opening for scrum half Alex Collison, who'd replaced Max Lonsdale at half time, to feed Hardy who banged over a sweetly efficient drop goal to extend the Scottish lead to 13-5.
Cheshunt were not about to surrender their unbeaten record lightly and came back at Scottish with sustained attacks from forwards and backs. For fully 15 minutes Scottish were penned in their own half remorselessly committed to the tackle to resist the home side who were full of strong runners and cheered on by a very vocal crowd.
Despite a painful back spasm skipper Ridley Barker led the defence with tackle after tackle and it was only when lock Brynley Hamer was indisposed following a yellow card that the Scottish line cracked and the Cheshunt pack drove over to score a converted try which took them to within one point.
From the restart the home side reapplied pressure to the Scottish defence but thanks to some heroic tackling led by full back Richard Anderson and fly half Hardy they were kept at bay.
With 12 minutes to go a huge relieving kick from Anderson took Scottish from their own 22 to the Cheshunt line. The Scottish pack had their tails up now and with the home side under intense pressure at the breakdown the ball squirted out to their fly half. His desperate attempt at a clearing kick was brilliantly charged down by flanker Hamish Whitear and prop Steafel won the race to drop on the ball in the in-goal area. Anderson converted to put Scottish 20-12 ahead.
Yet again Cheshunt came surging back and yet again the Scottish defence held firm until with five minutes to go Cheshunt found a way over in the left hand corner after a desperate rearguard action had led to a series of tap penalties.
With just three points in it the final few minutes saw Scottish make a further push for the Cheshunt line through the boot of Hardy and a strong forward drive led by hooker Andrew Conder and second row Bothamley.
Cheshunt resisted and came back at Scottish for one last attack which was halted by more great defence on the half way drawing a Scottish penalty – and the relief of the final whistle.
The 20-17 victory keeps Scottish top of the table and, barring a disaster against bottom side Hertford in the final league game of the season next week, promotion looks secure.
Squad: Archie Brayley, Andrew Conder, Ollie Steafel, George Bothamley, Brynley Hamer, Hamish Whitear, OScar Thorpe, Joachim Ridley Barker, MAx Lonsdale, Alex Collison, Gary Hardy, ALex Wilson Benson, Jay Hansjee, Henry Nicholson Timms, AJ Crittenden, Andrew Gatehouse, Ross Edgar